Minister of Small and Medium Enterprises, Social Economy and Handicrafts Laurent Serge Etoundi Ngoa provides an overview as to how the Government is tapping the nation’s creativity and helping small businesses get off the ground.
What have been the main drivers of economic growth in the country?
What really enabled Cameroon to grow quickly? First, it was the policy choices of the former leaders; in the early 1960s and the 1970s they decided to develop the agriculture sector. Cameroon was living off agriculture and we are still developing the sector.
At the start of the 1980s, the raw materials and goods produced dropped in price in the international market; this became a problem. We attempted to solve this by diversifying and exploring our options. Once we decided to explore oil in the southwest and build roads, we were faced with the economic crisis.
We have to try and exploit mining resources and develop the power sector. We have iron, cobalt, manganese and the big diamond reserve of Mobilong, among others. Cameroon is sometimes referred to as “Africa in miniature” due to its diversity. We are very optimistic for the coming years and want to launch a huge investment program.
How is Cameroon encouraging foreign direct investment?
We need to improve the business environment in Cameroon – a point highlighted by investors. Through the creation of businesses we can help solve this. Here in Cameroon we can start up a business in just 72 hours. It has been very much applauded by investors, so now we are extending this process across the country.
We have been reducing the tax rate every year over the past five years. We want to reach a level that satisfies everyone. Whether for foreigners coming to invest in Cameroon or for Cameroonians themselves, we are trying to lower the costs and boost competitiveness.
‘WE CAN START UP A BUSINESS IN JUST 72 HOURS. IT HAS BEEN VERY MUCH APPLAUDED BY INVESTORS, SO WE ARE EXTENDING THIS PROCESS’
LAURENT SERGE ETOUNDI NGOA,
Can you explain how the Ministry is working toward increasing economic growth?
The Ministry considers all the groups that are very active in the business sector that are not official companies and provides them with the opportunity to become formal enterprises. This is what we are working on now.
In organising the handicraft sector, by next December we will have 10 craft villages completely built. We are now building seven and we will launch three at a regional level.
The craft sector was always present but previously had no structure and now we are providing a plan and structure, protecting artisans by law.
Even in 1925 we already had a culture craft unit, which won the first prize in the US but it was confiscated there; the Government recently reclaimed it. Cameroonians are very creative and one can make a lot of money from creativity. We are now developing this sector.
What can you tell us about the Ministry’s plans for 2011?
We have different ways of funding SMEs. First, through a project that lends a hand to promoters of SMEs in Cameroon pursuing a project that cannot go ahead due to certain difficulties. Our program will allow them to conserve and transform what they are producing, so they can build a small factory where they can add value to their goods, especially for goods that are of high-level consumption. For example, yams – we need to preserve them all year round so the population can get it for 12 months not just three. This program has been running for the last three years and with very good results.
Secondly, we have programs with the EU and other international institutions enabling businessmen to acquire loans from banks under certain conditions.
Finally, we have direct help for small businesses in our budget. We can offer grants to small businesses in agriculture or the social economy.